Tag Archives: Kandhamal
They are loaded onto trains like goats, wide-eyed and scared. Few know where they are being herded to or where the trains – the Korba-VSKP Link Express and the Durg-VSKP Passenger – are going. They are pushed into unreserved compartments, one stacked above the other like sacks of rice. Some die without food or water; others from sheer heat. But no one cares. It’s modern-day slavery at its worst.
Every year in November, brick kiln workers with hunger gnawing inside them migrate from Odisha to Andhra Pradesh to escape abject poverty. This ‘distress migration’, which happens during the lean agricultural months, soon descends to a hellish existence as these workers have 18-hour work days, regular assaults and inhuman beatings.
“Some seem to have lost their minds in the process,” says Subhadeep Kumar, a University of Hyderabad (UoH) student. “I don’t think they were that way when they were recruited.”
Sudhir Katiyar, project director of Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action (PCLRA), says, “There are at least 2,00,000 Odisha brick kiln workers in Andhra. They are a perfect example of slavery in modern times.”
These workers migrate from Balangir, Koraput, Kalahandi, Kandhamal and Bargarh districts of west Odisha. “Government schemes are not implemented properly here,” says Trilochan Punji, president of Zindabad Sangathan which led to the formation of a union in Balangir. “NREGS mein ghotala hai (It’s a scam). They don’t get paid for any work.”
The state administration, meanwhile, has turned a blind eye to this migration. “We approached the Balangir district labour officer, but he did not respond,” says Punji. “Why should he? The sardars are getting these people work outside the state, so the administration doesn’t need to worry about their employment.”
They are then sent to kilns in Ranga Reddy, Medak and Nalgonda districts of Andhra where they work for a pittance. According to the Minimum Wages Act, a pair of workers should be paid Rs 367 for making 1,000 bricks. But in reality, a family (3-4 members) is paid just Rs 150-200.
Things got so bad last March that there was an uprising of workers in Dundigal village in Ranga Reddy district demanding just payment. The police detained the organizers and then allowed the employers a free run to flex their muscles, says Katiyar. “We have filed six group cases for payment of minimum wages and there has been absolutely no action by the labour department,” says Katiyar. When Kantabanji superintendent of police Avinash Kumar caught some brick kiln owners last year, he was transferred within a fortnight.
If these workers try to walk out, they are threatened with physical assault or beaten up. Goons follow them wherever they go. With no spare cash, fleeing at night is also impossible. Children too aren’t spared. They are made to flip bricks while they’re drying because the heavier palms of adults may lead to cracks.
When the Human Rights Forum approached authorities to do something, they were asked why the labourers can’t just leave, says P Madhavi, Hyderabad committee convenor of the organization. “But where will they go? They have nothing to go back home to. The solution is to protect their rights.” Meanwhile, a committee comprising the Indian Federation of Trade Unions, HRF, Action Aid and UoH has been formed to see that the voices of these exploited workers are heard.
Retired Justice Sarat Chandra Mohapatra, who was the one-man judicial commission inquiring into the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and the subsequent ethno-communal riots in Kandhamal in 2008, passed away on Saturday. He was 79. His wife Indira had predeceased him in 2002. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.
Though probe into Saraswati’s murder and the violent event in its aftermath would suffer a jolt because of Mohapatra’s demise, official sources said the state government, in consonance with provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act, could appoint a new judge to carry forward the commission’s work to its logical conclusion.
Sources said Mohapatra commission, which the government appointed on September 3, 2008, was originally supposed to submit its report within six months, but it was extended five times as the probe required more time. On July 1, 2009, the commission had submitted a 28-page ‘interim report’ to the state government, recommending certain measures that could be adopted to prevent recurrence of violent in Kandhamal.
Born on March 24, 1933, at Icchabatipur Sasan in Dhenkanal district to Gobinda Chandra Mohapatra and Chitramali, Mohapatra was educated at B B High School, Dhenkanal; MPC College, Baripada; G M College, Sambalpur and M S Law College, Cuttack. He started legal practice in 1956 and went on to become a judge of Orissa High Court in 1984 and the Allahabad High Court in 1994. He also served as president, State Consumer Redressal Forum from 1989-1993, chairman, Orissa Administrative Tribunal, in 1995 and state Lokpal from 2003 to 2008. He also edited a journal, The Lawyer, for sometime.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh, law minister B K Arukh, state Congress president Niranjan Patnaik, state BJP chief Jual Oram and a host of distinguished personalities condoled Mohapatra’s death. Naveen described him as a ‘great pillar of the judicial system in our state’.
In the evening, Mohapatra was cremated at Swargadwar in Puri.
Forests in Odisha are burning in the scorching summer heat, literally. Around 2,700 cases of jungle fires were reported in the state in the past two months.
Satellite generated data available with the Forest Survey of India (FSI) said Kandhamal district in the southern part of the state reported the highest 757 incidents of forest blaze between March 1 and April 28.
Koraput district reported 500 forest fires while Ganjam reported 286 in the past two months. Other districts with over 100 instances of forest in flames include Sambalpur (171), Dhenkanal (137) and Sundargarh (108).
In total, there have been 2,934 forest fire incidents reported in the state this year. While a majority of 2,400 incidents were reported in March, there were 296 fires in April. The latest three incidents of fire were reported in three different places in Puri district on April 26, the FSI data said.
There were just 780 incidents of forest fire reported in 2011, while 2,523 fires were reported in 2010 and 2,080 in 2009.
Authorities attribute the drastic increase in number of forest fires to better tracking. “The mechanism to track and report fire incidents have improved due to satellite imagery. That is why the number seems to increase sharply. Earlier, many incidents were going unnoticed,” said principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) (wildlife) J D Sharma.
Sharma said another reason behind marginal rise in the number may be exceptionally dry weather during December and January. “There was no winter rain this time. Such rains help control dryness in forest. That may be one reason behind some more fires this time,” he said.
The PCCF (wildlife) said the forest department had created several fire lines (patches clean of foliage so that accidental fires don’t cross those lines) and had undertaken controlled fires to destroy combustible leaves to avert mishaps.
Environmentalists said all incidents of forest fires are due to human error, sometimes deliberate. Gopal Panda, a professor of geography at Utkal University, said March and April are the months when such incidents go up every year because thick carpets of leaves shed by tress are found lying in forest during this time. “People dependent on firewood, torch the forests so that they may gain an easy entry inside the thick foliage,” he said. Notably, 65% families in the state depend on firewood for kitchen fuel, as per Census 2011 household data.
Panda said those collecting mahua flowers tend to burn the fallen leaves to have a clean ground to collect the flowers on. Such fires sometimes spread uncontrollably. During the dryness of spring and summer, people casually dropping their half-lit biri may also lead to fire. Awareness should be created to address such problems, he added.
Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty said the rising incidences were due to the failure of the forest department to take remedial steps. “The department is supposed to involve people in protecting the forests as per the provisions of Forest Rights Act. But no such initiatives are being taken. Incentives meant for protecting forests are not reaching people,” Mohanty said.
The State fared better than other Maoist-affected States as far as the implementation of the Centrally-sponsored Integrated Action Plan is concerned, which is now in operation in 18 of the 30 districts, according to sources.
The sources said the total expenditure in the implementation of the IAP has been in the order of 70 per cent of the released funds for various projects. This was revealed at a review meeting following the recent video conferencing by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on the implementation of the scheme.
The sources said IAP was implemented in 15 backward and Maoist-affected districts and, since December last year, the Union Home Ministry had extended the project to three more districts- Nayagarh, Jajpur and Ganjam on demand by the State Government. The other districts in which the IAP is in operation are- Balangir, Deogarh, Gajapati, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, Sambalpur, Sonepur and Sundargarh.
During the financial years 2010-11 and 2011-12, while the Union Government had provided Rs828 crore with Rs55 crore for each of the 15 districts, the newly added three districts received Rs90 crore at the rate of Rs 30 crore each. Out of the total Rs915 crore, the expenditure was to the tune of 70 per cent in 15 districts and around one per cent in case of the rest three districts, the sources said.
During the two years, various projects like road communication, building, drinking water supply, irrigation and other core sectors were taken up. The State Government had already allotted Rs 934.15 crore, more than the released funds, for the implementation of such projects in the 18 districts, the sources said, adding that 74 % of the projects are drinking water supply schemes, both piped water and tube-well projects.While 90 per cent of the projects were taken up for implementation, 65 per cent of the projects have already been completed, the sources said.
In its endeavour to expand beyond northern India and tap rural customer base, the fledgling DLF Pramerica Life Insurance (DPLI), a 74:26 joint venture between DLF and Prudential International Insurance Holdings, a fully owned subsidiary of Prudential Financial, the US-based financial services leader, will now reach out to over 18 lakh households in 250 villages in eastern India, mostly across West Bengal, Orissa and Assam.
The company, which operates through 41 branch offices and 88 branch units across Delhi NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and partly Gujarat, has recently marked its footprint in Kolkata and is now keen on moving into tier-II, tier-III cities and even deeper.
The company has drawn up elaborate plans to reach out to people in far-flung areas through a programme called ‘Bima Jagrukta Abhiyan,’ which is a month-long insurance awareness campaign that seeks to generate awareness about the need and benefits of life insurance among rural customers.
“Through our initiative of Bima Jagrukta Abhiyan, we aim to reach out to a large number of rural households to educate them about the importance of life insurance and simultaneously also to make our products easily accessible to them,” Pavan Dhamija, MD and CEO of DPLI, said.
“The protection that life insurance offers is extremely important for the financial security and well-being of the family. It is unfortunate that large population of people residing in rural India has little knowledge of or access to life insurance,” he said.
As per the plan, the company will cover 100 villages in 16 districts in Orissa including Cuttack, Jagatsinghapur, Puri, Khordha, Nayagarh, Kandhamal, Balangir, Kalahandi, Naupada, Bargarh, Sambalpur, Boudh, Sonepur, Koraput, Malkangiri and Nabarangpur.
In West Bengal, the company will touch upon 100 villages in the districts of Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Burdwan, Bankura, Purulia, Hoogly, Nadia, Mushirdabad and Coochbehar. And in Assam, the programme will cover 50 villages in the 12 districts of Baksa, Nalbari, Barpeta, Chirrang, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, Goalpara, Sontipur, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sibsaga and Tinsukia, he said.
Branded mobile vans will travel through these villages with simple and direct messages. Besides, skits, street plays and interactive games will be used to draw attention of people and encourage them to find out more about life insurance and what it can do for the long-term financial security for themselves and their families. All communication will be kept simple so that the rural population finds it easy to understand and act upon.